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Eagles great Tommy Thompson finally makes Phila. Sports Hall of Fame

There were, among the previous 120-plus inductees to the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, a pool shark, a statistician, a diver, a pole-vaulter, two field hockey stars, three offensive linemen, five writers, and six broadcasters.

Former Eagles quarterback Tommy Thompson. (Handout photo)
Former Eagles quarterback Tommy Thompson. (Handout photo)Read more

There were, among the previous 120-plus inductees to the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, a pool shark, a statistician, a diver, a pole-vaulter, two field hockey stars, three offensive linemen, five writers, and six broadcasters.

But there wasn't a single representative of the most glamorous position in sports: quarterback.

On Thursday night, the Hall, in its ninth year, at last will rectify that shortcoming, welcoming during a Sheraton Society Hill ceremony a deceased Eagles quarterback who had one eye, a first name of Lurtis, and, in one of the most important games of his life, a passing rating of zero.

Of course, in addition to those biographical quirks, Lurtis Pryor "Tommy" Thompson, one of 16 inductees in the Hall's Class of 2012, also possessed a few impressive distinctions:

A native Kansan who died at 72 in 1989, he not only guided the Eagles to three consecutive NFL title-game appearances, in 1947, '48, and '49, but he also won the last two.

Just 11 NFL quarterbacks - not counting the still-active Tom Brady - have won consecutive championships. Among them, only Thompson is not enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In those three seasons when Greasy Neale's Eagles reached the league's title game, they relied primarily on Steve Van Buren's running talents. Despite that, Thompson threw for a total of 57 touchdowns and 5,372 yards in those years. He led the NFL in passer rating in 1948 and 1949.

"He was a good player," recalled Bill Macrides, a backup to Thompson on those Eagles teams who is 87 and lives in Newtown Square. "He always did the right thing on the field. The other guys recognized that and respected him."

On his football cards, the 6-foot-1, 192-pound Thompson - amply muscled, wavy-haired, and with a jaw as sturdy as his arm - embodies the popular image of a quarterback. And while he might not have accumulated the statistics of a Sammy Baugh or Bobby Layne, he was, teammates said, their equal as a leader.

"I think the real key to those titles was Tommy Thompson," the late Al Wistert, a teammate, once said. "He had those indefinable qualities that make a player a winner."

'One-eyed passer'

Thompson's noteworthy but now largely forgotten pro career began in Pittsburgh in 1940 and ended 13 years later on a smoke-shrouded field in Calgary.

In between came World War II service and eight seasons as the Eagles quarterback and leader during the most successful era in franchise history.

A native of Hutchinson, Kan., Thompson was an unlikely football star. As a youngster, he lost virtually all vision in his left eye.

"He didn't talk about it, but he threw the javelin in high school, and we always heard he was hit in the eye by a javelin," nephew Jim Murphy, a retired airline pilot in El Reno, Okla., said of Thompson, who married but had no children.

The handicap caused Thompson to favor receivers who lined up on his right side and led some of the nickname-obsessed sportswriters in that less-sensitive era to label him "the One-Eyed Passer."

A single-wing tailback at the University of Tulsa, Thompson began his NFL career when, after going undrafted in 1940, he signed as a free agent with the Steelers.

Following that season, the Eagles' Bert Bell and Steelers' Art Rooney swapped franchises, and Thompson, little used in '40, came to Philadelphia. In 1941, Bell hired Neale, and the Eagles coach immediately installed the Tulsa graduate as the quarterback in his "T" formation.

On the field, Thompson learned to compensate for the bad eye, a handicap that wouldn't exclude him from World War II. He was drafted in 1942 after a 2-9 Eagles season. Two years later, during the Allies' second Normandy landing, he was wounded and earned a Purple Heart.

He returned to a postwar Eagles team that, with the additions of Van Buren, Wistert, and Bucko Kilroy, would improve to 6-5 in 1946. A year later, Thompson led the league in completion percentage, and the Eagles went 8-4 to tie the Steelers for the East Conference title.

In the subsequent conference playoff, Thompson completed 11 of 17 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns as the Eagles thumped Pittsburgh, 21-0.

A week later, though, the Cardinals edged Philadelphia in the championship game. Thompson, with the Eagles unable to establish the run on an icy Comiskey Park field, threw the ball 44 times, completing 27 - both title game records.

The Eagles got revenge the following season, scoring a 7-0 championship game triumph over the Cardinals in blizzard-like conditions at Shibe Park. Thompson completed just 2 of 7 passes and was intercepted twice. Those numbers translated to a quarterback rating of zero, the first of only six times in NFL history that has happened.

He and the Eagles were gaining confidence. In '49, they went 9-2-1, led the league in points scored (364) and fewest points allowed (134), and beat the Rams, 14-0, in the title game.

Without explanation

A year later, his vision worsening and his aches increasing, Thompson, 34, slowed down markedly. His 1950 numbers slipped and so did the Eagles, falling to 6-6.

At season's end, the quarterback, without explanation, retired and took a job as an Arkansas assistant.

In 1953, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League offered him the chance to play again as well as coach their backfield. Part of a quarterback carousel there, he would dress for only five games.

He did throw the first TD pass at new Winnipeg Stadium, a 1-yard completion in the season's second game.

Two weeks later, in a loss at Calgary, Thompson, 37, threw for another. During the game, a fire beneath Mewata Stadium's grandstands sent clouds of smoke onto the field, but play continued. It would be Thompson's last game. Weary and wracked by arthritic pain, he retired at season's end.

He would later coach briefly with the Chicago Cardinals before the arthritis confined him to a wheelchair in the early '70s. Ill with cancer in 1988, he returned to Philadelphia for a final appearance, at the 40th reunion of the 1948 championship team. He died on April 22, 1989.

"A lot of players on that ['48] team are in the football Hall of Fame," Murphy said. "I don't understand why he isn't."